Village Council — Hard questions for green town
- Published: June 16, 2011
The June 6 meeting of Village Council offered another look into the challenge of running a village that wants to be green in a world in which no current energy options are perfect. Sparking the two-hour dialogue on energy issues was whether the Village should sign a contract with American Municipal Power, or AMP, for participation in a natural gas plant in Fremont, Ohio.
Taking part in the dialogue were Council members and staff; Mark Gerken, the CEO of AMP, which is the Village’s municipal energy cooperative; and about 10 citizens who spoke against signing on with the plant, due to their concerns about the environmental effects of fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure to break up source rock containing natural gas.
While Council had expected to vote on the issue due to a deadline on the Fremont contract, Gerken announced that the deadline had been moved back two weeks. Council members stated Monday they did not feel ready to vote on the contract, which commits the Village to the project for 35 years, and will do so at their next regular meeting on June 20.
In a presentation on the plant, Gerken stated that signing on to the Fremont project is an opportunity for the Village to meet local energy needs with a source that’s both more environmentally friendly than coal and less expensive than other technologies.
“If you want to be clean, the only options you have are this or nuclear, and nuclear’s more risky,” Gerken said, regarding the natural gas plant. “This plant is the most efficient and economical you can get.”
Yellow Springs will need more energy sources in a few years, when the Gorsuch coal plant goes off line. Council has repeatedly stated its preference for renewable energy sources, and within several years will be using renewables for about 60 percent of its energy needs, Gerken said.
But that still leaves a significant gap that needs to be filled. If the Village does not sign on to the Fremont project and is forced to go on the open market to meet energy needs, it will likely pay a higher price and have no choice but coal, Gerken said. Coal is considered the most environmentally damaging of energy alternatives because of its high emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases into the air.
Regarding the dangers of fracking, which is linked to groundwater contamination, Gerken said that “Our intent is not to buy fracked gas.”
But several Yellow Springs citizens took issue with AMP’s statement.
“I wish you could say that AMP is committed to not buy fracked gas, rather than it’s an intention,” said Nadia Malarkey, who expressed her concern about the health and environmental effects of fracking.
In response, Gerken said the company can’t make that commitment, since finding the most cost-effective sources of gas is the priority.
Village Council recently supported a resolution that opposes current fracking practices, but, “We can’t simultaneously use and oppose fracking,” Harvey Paige said. While the carbon footprint of natural gas is less than that of coal, it still has a carbon footprint, he said.
“Climate change is real, and we need to do what we can, however we can, to minimize climate change. If we use a gas plant we’re going to encourage more fracking,” he said, urging Council to “think globally and act locally.”
Engineer Eric Lang, who specializes in wind turbine technologies, took issue with Gergen’s statement that gas and nuclear energy are the only options available.
“There are a lot of other solutions that you haven’t had time to think of,” he said. “It’s a short amount of time for a 35-year decision.”
Christine Roberts also questioned Gergen’s statement on energy options.
“There are many energy technologies. I do believe within a short time there will be more options than gas and coal,” she said.
As an example, Chris McWhinney, CEO of Millenium Reign Energy, which has a demonstration alternative energy site near Brookville, brought to the meeting a hydrogen generator that can turn solar energy into hydrogen for storage. The Village recently signed on to a private solar project to be built on the Glass Farm, to be used only for peak energy needs because solar energy is only available when it’s produced and can’t be saved.
This new technology will change that, according to McWhinney.
“You can store the solar you don’t use, and then turn it back into solar [power] later,” he said.
Kate LeVesconte suggested that to explore the technologies available, the Village issue a Request for Proposal, or RFP, to solicit ideas and bids on newable energy sources.
While there may be renewables available, they tend to be more expensive than natural gas, according to Karen Wintrow.
“Wind and solar are much more expensive,” she said. “It’s a huge cost variable that I feel we have to take into account for the citizens and the businesses of the village.”
Gerken agreed that the Fremont plant option would be more economical than newer technologies.
“I’m trying to provide some financial stability,” he said.
The contract with the Fremont Energy Center, which has already been constructed and would come online January 2012, would provide intermediate energy needs, or those during the workweek when energy needs are high, as opposed to base power or peak power. AMP has recommended that to meet its needs, Yellow Springs contract for 1.6 megawatts of gas-generated energy, although at the June 6 meeting Gerken said he believes the Village actually needs a smaller amount, perhaps about 1.2 megawatts. He also said the Village would have the option to get out of the 35-year contract at any time if it found a buyer for the contract from other AMP members. AMP is a cooperative of 128 municipalities across six states, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff. A municipality could also choose to manage its own sources of natural gas, Gerken said.
“It’s what we put in to make sure you have some local control,” he said.
The potential to opt out of the contract at a later time if more renewable energy sources become available makes the commitment to the Fremont plant look more attractive, according to Judith Hempfling, who said she’s also interested in finding new options by releasing an RFP.
“If there’s flexibility, this may be a compromise we can make,” she said.
Gerken said he will submit to the Village the lower amount of energy that he recommends from the Fremont plant, and Council members will reconsider the project, and take a vote at their June 20 meeting.
Other items on the June 6 Council agenda will be covered in next week’s News.